How to minimise landlord insurance claims during the hazardous winter months - Total Landlord Insurance

July 19, 2022
Total Landlord Insurance
How to minimise landlord insurance claims during the hazardous winter months - Total Landlord Insurance

According to our 10 years of property claims report: “January and December reveal a greater widespread intensity [of insurance claims] across the UK compared to other months, revealing that claims are more common in winter when pipes freeze and boilers are generally more active.” So it’s essential around August / September time to make sure your property – and your tenant – are properly prepared for any winter disasters that might lie ahead by getting your rental property ready for winter.

A good way to help avoid winter hazards and insurance claims, is to put together a ‘winter plan’ and share it with your tenant. Here’s what that could look like:

1. Make sure the tenant knows what potential hazards to look out for

Our own data shows that the two most common claims during winter are ‘escape of water’ – typically a burst pipe – and storm damage, especially to the roof. But there are many other potential hazards that you and your tenants should look out for, so make sure they’re aware of signs that the property either has been or could be damaged, including:

  • Loose roof tiles after a storm that could cause a leak in the loft
  • Water leaking out of guttering – it could be broken or blocked, which can lead to damp penetrating the walls
  • Low water pressure in cold weather – pipes could be partially frozen or there may be a problem with the boiler
  • Cracked window panes after a storm – they pose a security risk
  • Standing water around the outside of the property after heavy rainfall means the ground could be waterlogged or a drain may be blocked – that could cause the water to seep into the walls of the property
  • Snow or ice building up on the roof and around the guttering – this can put a strain on the roof and could cause structural damage, so it needs to be removed if possible

If the tenant spots any of these signs – or if anything else isn’t working properly or appears damaged – make sure they know to contact you or your property manager as soon as possible, before the issue becomes bigger and potentially much more expensive to fix.

2. Be prepared to make property checks after a storm, big freeze or heavy rainfall

While it’s helpful if your tenants can alert you to problems and damage early, it is your responsibility to make sure their home remains in good condition, safe and secure. So, after any harsh weather event, you or your agent should pop down to the property and check for damage. If there is any, you should have it repaired as soon as possible – and make an insurance claim if necessary to help cover the damage.

3. Check the boiler ahead of winter

Many winter problems typically start when tenants turn the boiler back on after it’s been off for a while. If you or your tenant does have any problems switching it back on,  our emergency cover can provide 24 hour cover over 365 days a year. And in worse case scenarios, can also provide alternative accommodation costs for your tenants. However the boiler needs to be less than 15 years and has to have had an annual service.  

One way to make sure the heating works well during winter is to schedule your annual gas safety check to be carried out towards the end of autumn. Then, if there are any problems, you know in advance rather than waiting for an emergency to actually happen.

Otherwise, if you or your agent have a good relationship with the tenant, ask them to check:

  1. The heating comes on okay
  2. All the radiators are heating up to the top
  3. There are no cracks in the boiler or leaks coming from the pipes
  4. The boiler pressure gauge is where it should be – between 1 and 1.5 bar

And then when you or your agent next check the property, make sure the pipes and any water tanks are still well lagged to ward off any frozen pipe issues over the winter period – and remind your tenant to keep at least some background heating on during cold snaps. Be aware if the property is left for between 30 and 90 days consecutively during the winter months, to make sure your insurance cover is still valid, between 1 November and 31 March:

  • Either the water supply should be switched off at the mains and the system drained
  • Or if the property has a central heating system it needs to be set to operate continuously for 24 hours of each day and the thermostat set at not less than 10 degrees Celsius / 50 degrees Fahrenheit

And, if there is a fitted loft hatch door this needs to be left open.

This is to make sure the property doesn’t freeze and cause damage while empty and the tenant is away.

4. Make sure the tenant knows exactly what to do if the property falls foul of winter disasters

As well as confirming with the tenant what to do in an emergency, make sure you provide them with any information they might need to stay safe through winter. For example:

  • If there’s a leak in the pipework, do they know where the stop cock is and that they should turn it off immediately?
  • If the central heating breaks down, do they know whether  you or your agent has free-standing heaters they can borrow?
  • What if there’s a flood – are you and your tenant signed up to flood warnings and do they know to turn off the water and electrics? Have you made sandbags available?
  • During snowy and icy spells, are the tenants aware they’re responsible for clearing their own drive and pathways? Have you provided grit or salt and a snow shovel?
  • Who does the tenant call 24/7 in an emergency? Is it you, your agent, or your insurer?

You can also direct your tenants to our series of free advice sheets to help them look after their home this winter.

For a landlord’s perspective on preparing your rental property for winter, head over to our ‘Landlord voice’ article by seasoned landlord and founder of LandlordZONE, Tom Entwistle, who focuses on the need to view repairs and maintenance as an investment rather than a cost. And for all you need to know about how deposits can help in winter, read mydeposits article on how deposits can protect your property from damage caused by tenants over winter.

Landlords have landlords too! Who is responsible for what if you own a leasehold property?

Things can sometimes get tricky if your rental property is leasehold – which will typically mean it’s a flat – because then you have your own landlord – the freeholder. This adds a whole layer of complexity to dealing with winter hazards because some aspects of maintenance and repair are under your control – typically everything inside the property – but other areas, such as the roof or the windows, may be down to the freeholder.

Firstly, to understand exactly what the freeholder is responsible for maintaining and repairing and what’s your responsibility, check your lease document and be very clear on what they’re obliged to look after.  

Secondly, the freeholder will typically charge you for buildings insurance to cover emergencies. This is highly unlikely to be good enough cover for you or the tenant. So, check what it covers – and more importantly what it doesn’t.

Then look at landlord insurance and see what additional cover you can get, especially in case something happens that means your tenant can’t live in the property and needs re-housing.

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